Carnegie Mellon University
May 19, 2020

Eli Workman Wins K&L Gates Prize

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS

Recent graduate Eli Workman has been selected to receive Carnegie Mellon University’s 2020 K&L Gates Prize.

The $5,000 prize, supported by the K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies, recognizes a graduating senior who has best inspired fellow students at the university to love learning through a combination of intellect, high scholarly achievement, engagement with others and character.

“I feel honored,” Workman said of receiving the award. “I find it exciting to understand the mechanics of the world around me and I'm glad to have been able to share that with others in the CMU community." Workman, a physics and mechanical engineering double major who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in December, is now an advanced trans and drive units project engineer at General Motors, fulfilling his longtime dream to work with cars.

“I've always wanted to work in the automotive industry,” said Workman. His overarching goal is to be involved in the design and development process of road-performance cars. “I want to be able to point at some part of a production vehicle on the road and say ‘I designed that part.'" 

Eva Mergner, Workman’s mechanical engineering academic advisor, remembers many hours spent talking about his passions, most notably internal combustion engines. “He was always excited to show me his favorite high-performance cars on the internet and to answer my questions about how they work.”

Workman’s passions for science were evident across all areas of campus. He continually inspired his classmates through his love of learning and his character.

In the winter of his sophomore year, Workman was paralyzed from the chest down in a skiing accident. After only one semester of recovery and adapting to his new reality, Workman returned to CMU. He continued to challenge himself not only academically in his studies but also physically by returning to the slopes as an adaptive skier.

“Instead of shying away from skiing because of what happened…his persistence and determination pushed him to learn to ski again but using a monoski to adapt to his situation,” said fellow mechanical engineering and physics major, Melissa Bryan.

Other students have also been inspired by Workman’s drive and ambition. Within the past year, several mechanical engineering students have aimed their capstone design projects at creating an all-terrain wheel chair.

"I find it exciting to understand the mechanics of the world around me and I'm glad to have been able to share that with others in the CMU community."

For his own capstone project, Workman’s team created an automatic sparring device to help athletes train without needing a human sparring partner. The project won the “Most Innovative” design award at the mechanical engineering design expo for its fully interactive prototype, demonstrating target setting and punching functionality.

His teammate Adriana Goodman wrote “(Eli’s) solutions to design problems were elegant while being simple and practical … he was upbeat and reasonable, helping keep stressed-out team members calm and collected and acting as a mediator when the team had disagreements. It was an honor to work with him on the Design II project, and I learned a lot about being a good teammate through his example.”

Workman has also impressed students and faculty with his intellect and academic drive.

“Eli is a person who is an immensely good problem solver, as well as an analytical thinker,” added Bryan, noting that he was an exceptional physics tutor. As a peer tutor for Academic Development, Workman found a way to help any student who was struggling no matter what level of physics they were at and adapted his teaching strategies to fit a large variety of learning styles.

Physics Professor Sara Majetich echoed this perception of Workman’s intellect. In her Quantum Physics and Structure of Matter course, she recalls how Workman would routinely get the poorest scores on homework assignments but would then do 20 points better on exams than the next best student. “Everyone else was googling the HW answers, while Eli was thinking them through on his own,” explained Majetich. “Eli is not only bright but he has real integrity.